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Between the lines...

What ails our book industry? ZIYA US SALAM speaks to Sukumar Das, the man behind "The Book Industry in India" to find out.


HE HAS come a long way from his ancestral home in 24-Parganas to carve out a career in New Delhi. Just recently this Managing Director of UBS Publishers and Distributors put together a book on the Indian industry that is a "general exercise, covering A to Z of the book industry." He is Sukumar Das, the editor of "The Book Industry in India", a 230-odd-page insight into the book-publishing scene. "This book covers different aspects of the book industry. It talks of the three Ps - printing, publishing and paper-making."

India has the third largest English language publishing industry yet the industry seems to be in doldrums with books being basically an urban phenomenon. Admits Das, "this is because the reading habits are not so good in India. We have always had an oral tradition in the country and reading habits are poor because people are poor. We have 62 per cent literacy but people are not educated. There is a lot of competition from television too. However, the book industry should supplement TV, not compete with it. For instance when Ramayana and Mahabharat were telecast, the demand for those books increased. Just recently when `Devdas' was released, people came to stalls asking for the book or its English translation. That way, one can co-exist. However, it is always easier to watch something than to think or read."

Is the argument of competition valid always? There was no such problem for "Harry Potter"? "There is no reason why we cannot repeat its success here," says the man who served as the President of the Federation of Publishers' and Booksellers' Associations in India from 2001 to `03. "Our endeavour is to attract more and more writers of children's books. Through this book, `The Book Industry', we are trying to attract new writers. However, it is not that writing for children is not financially viable. We have learnt that from the experience of foreign writers. If the masses and the publishers can do so much for `Harry Potter', we can do likewise when we do come across a good writer. We can also create similar hype though the infrastructure may not favour as much."

Das, born and brought up in Delhi, is the Secretary-General of Afro-Asian Book Council, believes that there is a huge market in rural India waiting to be tapped. "It is important to go to rural India, create a market, an awareness of the work there. Rural India hardly has any bookstalls beyond those for textbooks. There is a need to make a concerted attempt to tap this market and we would need everybody's support for undertaking the venture," says the man who, in a bid to attract the foreign market, once entered a Sheikh's office in Jeddah and showed him Islamic books from India, and walked away with an order for books on science and technology books!

With all the experience at his command, he puts his finger at three Ps that dog the book industry: plagiarism, piracy and photocopying. "There is an urgent need to tackle this menace. Also, it is time to put an end to the monopoly of any House for school textbooks. Let there be fair competition. Let the NCERT and others compete with us about production and contents. They should allow us entry into the textbook arena."

For the moment though browsing through "The Book Industry in India" will have to do, written as it is by 30 leading professionals from the trade.

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